The Best Business Advice I Ever Got Was “Fire Your Clients”
Here’s what it means and how it can help you thrive
While attending a leadership training conference for my former corporate job, I had a chance to sit down with our conglomerate’s CEO, Mark. For some reason, maybe because I have the habit of being a little too bold, he’d taken a liking to me.
Over coffee, we talked about client problems and solution building, and the conversation turned to solving problems that weren’t 100% on point for what our company did.
Then Mark, in a half-joking tone, said, “Fire your clients! Always fire your clients.” When I brought it up to a colleague later, she told me, “Oh ya, he loves saying that,” with a smirk on her face, she imitated him, “Fire your clients! Always fire your clients!”
“Fire your clients?” I thought… “Doesn’t that seem a little counter-intuitive?”
Now that I own a business, I get it.
Your work can’t be all things to all people, and there are going to be clients who get in your way and make things difficult. But when business is too hard, it doesn’t make any sense to slowly chip away, hoping it will get easier or make greater revenue.
We give up a lot by not giving up enough.
There are many ways your clients can make things difficult:
- They can ask you to complete tasks that are outside the scope of your contract
- They can ask you to complete tasks outside of your list of services
- They can undervalue you
- They can take your expertise for granted
- They can take up too much of your time
These things have a habit of making you feel resentful, stressed out, overwhelmed, and angry.
I recently read an example published in The Startup about a woman who left freelancing to return to a 9–5. In it, Tiffany talks about an insufferable client who inappropriately pushed her beyond her limits for $20 an hour. Tiffany should have fired that client.
It turns out that the clients who don’t pay you what you’re worth are usually the ones who need the most help. Why is that?
Your client, or potential client, is working hard to keep their shit together, which includes prioritizing where they invest their cash. If they’re not investing enough in your work, it means that work isn’t a priority.
If your work isn’t enough of a priority to pay you what you’re worth, fire that client. Let them get their MVP out and realize some things before they take on the extra struggle of juggling contracts they aren’t ready for.
So how do you avoid this predicament in the first place? Ask yourself this easy question: Does this client need to be convinced that your services are important?
Yes, you need to learn how to sell your services appropriately. Yes, you need to communicate how you’re going to help people. Yes, you still have to practice your pitch and get the right language down and learn your ideal client.
But you shouldn’t have to convince them that your services are worth it. It may feel like a short term win when you convert that lead who was on the fence, but if they weren’t actually ready to prioritize your work, you’re going to be on the chopping block every month when they review the budget. Having to constantly resell your work is an exhausting cycle.
It doesn’t matter how good your products or services actually are, if your client isn’t ready to prioritize you, your hard work won’t go anywhere, and we both know you didn’t get into business to screw around.
Getting better clients starts with you.
First: Distill Your Work Into a Focused and Clear Position
You need to identify what you have that’s worth commanding the right price, and distill it down until it’s targeted so you can consistently do the work you thrive in. Then, only take on that type of work.
When your positioning is weak because you’re offering too many products or services that can’t be easily explained, your potential customers don’t have a way of understanding how you are solving their problem. That’s when they’ll start negotiating with you to create something that works for them, and since your offering is diluted, they have the chance to take advantage.
Second: Develop a Better Understanding of What Your Business Needs
You can’t put a realistic price on your work unless you know what you’re worth and what you need. If you bring on extra help so you can delegate some of the work in order to meet a tight deadline, then your clients are benefiting from the value add of additional team members. That means your work is worth a little more.
Additionally, you need to be able to focus on your contracts. If your clients aren’t paying you enough, you’ll constantly be out there searching for more work to cover your expenses. You won’t be able to prioritize them because your attention is split in too many directions.
Based on the above criteria, you should be able to decide which of your clients you want to keep working with, and who needs to pack their knives and go.
Third: Lean Into Your Confidence
Commanding the right price for your work is honestly all about confidence, which comes from practice. So bet on the practice you’ve had and raise your prices. If your customers aren’t trying to negotiate you down, you’re probably not charging enough.
“But I need the $20 hourly rate that client pays me!” you might say. Why? Is it because you don’t feel confident enough to charge more? If that’s the case, what you need isn’t that client, it’s more practice. Go get a job with someone who knows how to do the job better than you do and get your practice on their dime and time.
Is it because you’re first starting out and you’re nervous? What you need isn’t that client, it’s courage and grit. Every entrepreneur gets scared. It’s not about avoiding fear, it’s about what you do when it happens.
“I have what I need for now. I’ll raise my rates eventually.” Oh, is that how you feel? How does future-you feel? What will you do when your profit funnel inevitably takes a dip? Are you going to be able to cover the costs of a few months of gap? Are you going to be able to grow or scale? What you need isn’t that $20 an hour client, it’s a financial contingency plan.
“But my clients can’t afford more than $20 an hour.” Well then, you’re working with the wrong clients. You should fire them. See my previous statement on prioritizing.
Firing that client is scary, but when you do, you’ll gain the chance to find the clients who will pay you $100 an hour.
If you think to yourself, “It’s not that simple,” I promise you it is. My very first client paid a rate of $150/hour. Yes, I had experience behind me, but that experience was what gave me the confidence to distill my messaging, see what my work was worth, and lean in. I knew what I was worth and I went for it, and it was the right call.
In order to make the great work you want to make, you need to shed what’s holding you back. The clients who really want to work with you will come back when they’re able to prioritize your work. That’s when you know they value your expertise, and you’ll have the chance to really make great work together.